Barkin' Bill | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Don't let the nickname fool you: Bill Smith doesn't bark the blues, he croons them in a mellow baritone reminiscent of Billy Eckstine, Johnny Hartman, and other great jazz balladeers. Bill traces his career back to early gigs with the late guitarist Tampa Red; like Tampa, he combines the musical instincts of a jazz musician with the lyric and emotional sensibility of a bluesman. He brings a rugged edge to the classic ballad themes with his street talk and his tales of "back-talkin', fat-mouthin"' women, but his delivery is so smooth--and his good-natured grin so infectious--that it's almost impossible to be offended. And Bill's sense of swing has survived miraculously intact through years of fronting raw-edged west-side blues bands--he can still move from deep bass to tender baritone with ease. Monday, B.L.U.E.S. Etcetera, 1124 W. Belmont; 525-8989. Thursday, Shaw's Crab House, 21 E. Hubbard; 527-2722.

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